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Bike Shops Deemed ‘Essential’ As Bike Transport Surges

The Massachusetts Avenue protected bike lane near Front Street and the Cambridge Bicycle shop, pictured in May 2019.

Governor Baker ordered all "nonessential" businesses to close on Tuesday, but with a surge of people bicycling for recreation and transportation, bike shops are being allowed to stay open across Massachusetts this week.

The Governor's order is a sharp escalation in the Commonwealth's efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases continues to grow quickly. But while people are being asked to stay home and avoid contact with others, many people are still commuting to essential jobs – or merely trying to hold onto their sanity – with bike rides.

In its definition of "essential services" that are allowed to remain in business, the Governor's order includes "employees who repair and maintain vehicles, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass movement of cargo and passengers."

That definition would seem to include bike repair businesses, but in the wake of the order, shops across Massachusetts got a flurry of conflicting messages about whether they would be allowed to stay open.

On Tuesday, municipal officials in Somerville, Cambridge, Newton, Northampton, and Boston, among other municipalities across the state, were informing local bike shops that they would indeed be allowed to remain open:

Later on Tuesday evening, though, the Baker administration issued a "frequently asked questions" document that contradicted those municipalities by asserting that bike shops, unlike automobile repair shops, would not be considered an essential transportation service. That language was removed late Wednesday evening.

The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike) has spent much of the week arguing that bike shops should be explicitly listed in the state's definition of essential businesses. On Monday, MassBike tweeted that the Commonwealth "needs to follow other states... (to) recognize biking as essential transportation."

"There's a conflict between what the state and the municipalities are saying," observed Galen Mook, executive director of MassBike, in a phone interview on Wednesday. "We know that Governor Baker is bike-friendly, so we were surprised to see that bicycles aren't being considered transportation for essential workers."

Mook also noted that the Boston-area municipalities that run the BlueBikes bikesharing program have started offering free memberships to health care workers to help them get to work during the crisis – proof, he says, that bikes still have an important role to play during the pandemic.

Some shops are still making a decision to close temporarily. Bikes Not Bombs in Jamaica Plain has announced that most of its upcoming programs and workshops would be cancelled or postponed, and that its shop "will close for the next two weeks (through April 6) to adequately prepare our staff and space for the season."

Other shops – including Fritz's in Worcester, Northampton Bicycle, and Ferris Wheels in Jamaica Plain – are open by appointment only to protect their staff from potential exposure to COVID-19.

Customers of those shops are being encouraged to call ahead to schedule a drop-off time if they need any repairs in the coming weeks.

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